Friday, August 1, 2014

Ray Rice's Apology: You Did More Than Let People Down

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens running back, beat his wife unconscious and was suspended by the NFL for two games. Nothing more needs to be said about the complete failure and embarrassment of the NFL in its lenient actions toward this situation. Anyone who sees the length of this suspension as just is actually, objectively wrong.

Ray Rice attempted to apologize for his actions -- which became known almost six months ago -- yesterday at a press conference. It is worth watching the entire statement, as this is an issue that plagues the NFL and the United States of America, and even those perpetrators who seem contrite (and Rice, I think, does) completely miss the point.

Rice explains that beating his fiancee (now wife) until she lost consciousness was the biggest mistake of his life. He explains how he dreads the day that his two-year-old daughter Googles her father and he has to explain what happened that night. He explains how he let his mother, daughter, wife, in-laws, the Baltimore community, his teammates, and "so many other people" down.

He showers his wife with compliments -- she is a consistent, loving, supportive person. He says that "she can do no wrong" and he understands that now. He affirms his belief that violence of any kind, especially "man on woman," is not right for society. He talks about domestic violence, and his actions in particular, as being "inexcusable," and he uses that word many times in his statement.

He explains that he is in counseling with his wife. He explains that he, as the husband, is (biblically) the head of the household, and must lead by example. He explains that this is not who he is, and anyone who knows him knows what he stands for.

The fact that Ray Rice is seeking counseling, and acknowledges that he needs help, is certainly laudable given the context of what he did. For a man in America -- and especially a black man -- admitting that you need help and seeking counseling is no small feat. In this case, it is the necessary step that he must take. I'm glad that he is.

Much of what Ray Rice talked about, however, completely misses the point. Firstly, his description of his wife is not valid. He calls his wife an angel, a person who can do no wrong. Describing your wife in those terms makes her sound like a passive, docile, unthinking, simple, vulnerable human being. Of course Ray Rice's wife is not an angel who can do no wrong. No one is. Describing her in those terms served to highlight Rice's mistake in his own mind. His mistake was not knocking out a woman who is an angel who can do no wrong; his mistake was using violence against his fiancee, against another person. Saying that his wife did not deserve that treatment because she is an angel who can do no wrong implies that other people, who are not angels who can do no wrong, could plausibly deserve that treatment. No one deserves that treatment, including Ray Rice's very human -- and thereby very flawed -- wife.

Secondly, his description of his role in his family -- as a leader of his household who must lead by example -- is a bit startling. Though adults in a family are certainly charged with being its leaders, Rice should in no way see himself as a leader of his wife. That is passively misogynistic at best. That implies that his wife must follow his example, and must be led by him because he is a man. Again, Ray Rice's wife is not an unthinking, docile, naive, innocent human being. She is an adult with a brain. Rice's understanding of his transgression in the context of a breach in his "leadership" of his wife implies a deep misunderstanding of the transgression itself and what he must do going forward.

Ray Rice did more than "let down" a lot of people. Ray Rice did more than make a big mistake. He did something that is so obviously outside of what is reasonable behavior that it cannot be described as merely a mistake or as something that is "inexcusable." Ray Rice should not have to learn a lesson from this episode. Ray Rice should already know that lesson. While he has made the first necessary step to attempt to move forward, his attitudes and understandings need to change dramatically before he can fully become a reasonable member of society, and of his family.

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